Iranian born visual artist Azita Moradkhani’s work is an engrossing, complex amalgam of female empowerment and cross-cultural psychic information, rendered with an acute delicacy that underscores her message of personal liberation. Moradkhani’s recent Victorious Secrets exhibition at Boston’s Gallery Kayafas, was a powerfully conceived and executed collection of painstakingly crafted pieces.
What at first glance appear to be fashion sketches of lingerie are fraught with a wealth of almost subliminal imagery—woven through each garment are intricate representations of tiny figures and symbolic tableaux, a visual device that delivers, from piece to piece, an almost episodic series of visual tale-telling.
Given the artists background, coming from a nation which for the last two generations has been ruled by an hyper-conservative, authoritarian religious government, the presentation and content of Victorious Secrets is doubly startling, and Moradkhani’s journey to this point is a fascinating odyssey of aesthetics and influences.
“Growing up in Tehran, I was exposed to the rich Persian art and culture,” Moradkhani said. “From childhood, I was surrounded by beautiful delicate carpets and colorful textile designs, from my grandma’s dress to the curtains on the walls. Also, I was impressed by Persian miniature with its colorful, overly detailed depictions and the art of storytelling through images. More importantly, my father is an artist and his passion in painting always inspired me to follow my future as an artist as well.”
Moradkhani’s life has always been focused on the visual. “I’ve studied art for more than 10 years,” she said. “And I’ve practiced in many different fields, photography, painting, drawing, printing, sculpture. In high school, I studied graphic design and got my bachelor in Visual Communication from Tehran University of Art. I started focusing on drawing and illustration and became interested in teaching art to children. So, I started my master in Art Education at Tufts University and School of the Museum of Fine Arts but I immediately missed my other side—making art for myself, and I also found an entirely different art world here in the U.S.”
Galvanized by the dramatic change in culture and setting—a new world where what had been taboo was now commonplace—Moradkhani came into her own as an expressive visual force, one who examinations of these radically different socio-cultural dynamics provides her an extraordinary palette.“My drawings for Victorious Secrets are based on my first impression from walking into a Victoria’s Secrets store,” Moradkhani said. “Through drawings of intimate lingerie I use an aesthetic of pleasure, to shift our focus to possibility, to hope. Yet as we look more closely, through the layers of colored pencil, past the details of lace and filigree, disruptive iconography become apparent, narrating inherited histories of nation and belief, engaging us in more complex ways.”
It’s rich, nuanced milieu, one that’s unique to Moradkhani. “Azita Moradkhani’s work combines the sensibilities of two cultures—one where sexuality is private and hidden and the second where sexuality revealed and marketed,” said Arlette Kayafas, Gallery Kayafas owner/director. “In Victorious Secrets, Moradkhani challenges these separate sensibilities. She mixes imagery to emphasize both inter- and dis-connections between sexual representation and national identity, between the public and the private.”
Leaving Iran for America was a profoundly cathartic experience for the artist. “Being brave enough to leave my comfort zone and move to the other side of the world was very difficult,” she said. “I had to watch myself fall apart but I was able to make something new through that painful process. And I’m fortunate to be able to communicate with people from different ethnicities and cultures, and through my work, to challenge inherited histories of nation and belief.”
Equal parts socio-cultural, post-feminist crusader and accomplished fine artist, Moradkhani’s passionate approach allows her to traverse a remarkable spectrum, one where her unique, aesthetic-based defiance and critical examination create extraordinary visual conclusions. Victorious Secrets was a significant achievement, one met with a tide of critical praise, and the exhibition didn’t merely proclaim Moradkhani’s arrival on the American arts scene, it established her as a force of illimitable potential.
“I’m interested in social realism and issues connected to politics and human rights,” Moradkhani said. “Questioning and challenging different belief systems, encouraging critical thinking about what to follow regardless of the social norms and pressures.”